Correlation between PTSD and Substance Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 8.5 million adults in United States suffered from Co-Occurring Mental Health Issues and Substance Use Disorders among in 2017. People, who suffer from mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), face intense anxiety, intrusive memories and nightmarish flashbacks that interfere with their day to day life. There is a high risk of substance abuse amongst people who have PTSD.

People who have been exposed to an extremely traumatic event, such as witnessing a death, having one’s life threatened, or enduring serious injury, may develop a set of symptoms known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is diagnosed in people who are exposed to a potentially life-threatening trauma, during which they experience an acute sense of intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

Many individuals with PTSD will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to escape their pain or to gain some sort of control in their lives. Chronic substance abuse creates a complicated Dual Diagnosis, or the co-existence of a serious psychiatric disorder and an addictive disorder. Recovering from this Dual Diagnosis requires a careful exploration of the causes of PTSD, combined with treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.


How PTSD and substance abuse is connected to each other?

Any physical or psychological trauma that leaves the individual feeling powerless and out of control may lead to PTSD. Some of the most common causes of the condition include:

  • Military combat
  • Violent assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse

In women, sexual abuse is one of the most common causes of PTSD and addiction in Combat is another common reason for PTSD, especially in men.

Substance abuse, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a complex relationship that can complicate treatment. High levels of stress can make it more likely for a person to turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of escape. Drugs can increase pleasure, decrease anxiety, and provide a distraction from difficult emotions.

Self-medication is one of the root causes that people with PTSD use substances as a way of reducing distress tied to particular PTSD symptoms. To deal with stress brought by PTSD, many patients begins to self-medicate with depressants to numb their pain, or get help of any other drug that allows them to find an ‘escape’ from their experiences. The self-medication theory states that people with PTSD use substances as a way of reducing distress tied to particular PTSD symptoms however it is highly recommended to get professional help in times of stress and difficult emotional situation rather than self-medication.

Symptoms of PTSD

Few of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidance of things related to the event
  • Severe anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Angry outbursts

These symptoms can strike the individual any time, and most commonly when he or she is reminded of the events in question.

Most Commonly Abused Drugs with PTSD

People who experience PTSD are most likely to use drugs like:

  • Alcohol
  • Anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax or Valium, also known as benzos
  • Prescription opiate painkillers
  • Heroin

Alcohol abuse and PTSD are often co-occurring, it was reported that between 60 and 80 percent of military veterans who seek help for PTSD also have alcohol use disorders.

Treatment Program for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders

When PTSD and addiction co-occur, it is important to treat the two disorders simultaneously and in an integrated fashion. It was found that treatment for substance abuse disorder was significantly less successful when patients were still suffering from PTSD. Patients treated for substance abuse had a high likelihood of relapsing before PTSD treatment could successfully be accomplished. As a result, clinicians shifted their focus to simultaneous treatment of both conditions.

Effective treatment generally targets all aspects of the self which includes mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

A treatment plan for PTSD and substance abuse should include the following:

  • Dual Diagnosis: Dual Diagnosis drug treatment programs and drug addiction therapy needs to be able to treat both conditions physical and mental.
  • 12-Step Programs: 12-Step programs are focused towards empowering the recovering addict to introspection and taking responsibility for their own outcome in life.
  • Evidence based therapies: Evidence based therapies includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Spiritual Counseling for Long-Term Recovery, Motivational Interviewing, Holistic Therapy, Family Therapy, Drug Rehabilitation Aftercare and Yoga.
  • Alternative treatments: Alternative treatments: Other alternative treatments include meditation, body work such as yoga, acupuncture therapy, massage therapy etc.
  • Medical Detox: Some cases become very complicated where some medical help is also needed.

Find the Support You Need to Overcome Addiction and PTSD

To overcome co-occurring disorders of substance abuse and PTSD, your first step is to decide and make a commitment to yourself to get help by recognizing there is a problem. Then, you should call and talk to a counselor and discuss about yourself and about your needs. What you will find out through these sessions is that you are not alone and there are many people who have walked your path and created new life that they desire. With the right support, you can fight addiction and win the battle for yourself. If you have any further questions about how would you start the path of recovery, give us a call today on 877-219-2888 or reach us via the contact form.

At Level Up Lake Worth, our staff is always prepared to offer guidance throughout any stage of recovery, including addiction withdrawal and post-traumatic stress disorder withdrawal. Our staff is extremely trained and experienced about the road to sobriety, and can arm you with the tools and techniques you need to stand strong against cravings and temptation. If you or someone you love is facing co-occurring disorders, we are here to help.

Hotline (855) 459-2880